The Obama campaign, despite criticism from some of its supporters, plans to expand its attack on Mitt Romney's role at Bain Capital by more aggressively tying the private-equity firm's tactics to Mr. Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts, campaign officials said.
The attacks on Mr. Romney's business background are helping both campaigns to draw battle lines for November. The Obama team paints Mr. Romney as a corporate raider more interested in profits than jobs, while the Romney campaign is using the attacks as evidence that the president is an enemy of business.
In coming weeks, the Obama campaign said, it intends to portray Mr. Romney's four years as governor—including his record on education, deficits, job growth and the size of government—as based on Bain's business principles. The goal is to show, in a negative light, how Mr. Romney's background could affect policy.
There's little evidence yet that the Bain attacks have found their mark, and several prominent Democrats have questioned their wisdom, including Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker. The Obama campaign portrays Bain as a firm that made big profits on its investments by firing workers and loading up acquired companies with large amounts of debt. Supporters say Bain and its peers fixed broken companies and improved their prospects, even if not all their bets paid off.
The campaign is expanding what was initially a modest advertising buy in Ohio and is considering moving into other states.
"There's nothing in the last week that has deterred us from using it continually throughout the campaign," an Obama campaign adviser said.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this week showed the majority of voters—53%—haven't heard of Bain Capital, which Mr. Romney helped found. The poll showed that among those who have heard of Bain, 19% view the firm negatively, compared with 9% who view it positively.
The ads illustrate a tightrope the president has to walk in offering a positive vision of his presidency while simultaneously trying to undercut Mr. Romney. Unlike his opponent, the president can't rely on outside super PACs to run an onslaught of advertising, because such groups supporting his campaign have struggled to raise money. Mr. Romney enjoys cover provided by groups including Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity, which give the likely GOP nominee time to focus on fundraising and introducing himself to voters.
The Romney campaign was waiting for this line of attack, particularly after rival Republicans dubbed Mr. Romney a "vulture capitalist" during the GOP primaries. The day the Obama campaign unveiled its first negative ad, which focused on a Missouri steel mill that Bain shut down, the Romney campaign responded by releasing a two-minute ad featuring worker testimonials from a thriving Bain-owned steel mill in Indiana.
It plans to trot out other Bain success stories, such as Staples Inc. founder Tom Stemberg, to talk up Mr. Romney's business experience. On the stump, Mr. Romney trumpets his successes as well as his failures in private equity to persuade voters that he has the experience to create jobs. Aides said he would continue to employ that message.
A Romney adviser said the campaign wasn't aware of any evidence the Obama camp's attacks have gained traction.
"If President Obama had even half of Mitt Romney's record on job creation, he'd be running on it," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. "Instead, he has resorted to attacks on free enterprise."
The Obama campaign tested the Bain message in polls and focus groups, and examined how late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy successfully used the same issue against Mr. Romney during their 1994 Senate contest.
Mr. Obama's aides have nudged Mr. Romney over his record as governor, but haven't launched a full-throated attack. Mr. Obama signaled plans to do so in a campaign speech Thursday in Iowa.
"Now, he doesn't really talk about what he did in Massachusetts, but he does talk about being a business guy, right?" Mr. Obama said of his rival. "So, I think it's a good idea to look at the way he sees the economy."
The president and his advisers have been trying to balance attacks on Bain to avoid appearing anti-business. They say Bain is a solid and successful company, and argue that the campaign isn't demonizing the firm's work.
The Obama campaign's broader focus on Mr. Romney's economic values is likely to be welcomed by supporters who disliked the tone of some of the Bain attacks.
"I don't believe the Obama campaign benefited from referring to Mitt Romney as a vampire any more than the Romney campaign has any credibility when they attack Barack Obama as being a socialist," said Robert Zimmerman, an Obama fundraiser and Democratic National Committee member.